Fulfilling a promise: hek-ka
Hekka is a dish you no longer hear of or see very often, even though chopped, across-the-bone cuts of chicken are still called “hekka chicken” at some Foodland stores. A few years ago, chef Mark Noguchi and I went on a mission to find out where the name hekka came from. With the help of the Japanese Cultural Center, we learned that hek-ka is an Okinawan term for the plow blade. It is said that this dish was made by farmers in the fields, who would heat the plow blade over a fire and cook the meat on it — this at a time when the shoguns had decreed that everyone in Japan follow a vegetarian diet. Hekka is just a one-pot version of the beautiful and elaborate sukiyaki, which is traditionally prepared one ingredient at a time and presented like a painting made of food.
You can do it two ways: gather all the ingredients or use a canned product of mixed vegetables (shirataki-no-mono) if you’re near an Asian store. I like the fresh; lucky live Hawai’i.
Grandma’s Homey Hekka
1 pound thin-sliced steak or bone-in chunks of chicken thigh
1 bunch green onions, sliced into 1-inch lengths
1-2 small round onions, sliced into crescents
1 can or plastic bag shirataki noodles (yam threads)
1/2-3/4 cup soy sauce (Yamasa low-sodium is actually good)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon mirin
Splash of sake or dry sherry
Small knob of ginger, peeled, sliced, smashed by cleaver
1 clove garlic, peeled, smashed by cleaver
Heat vegetable oil in work or large skillet. Partly brown meat or chicken; add green onions and onions. Cook until onions are limp and translucent and meat has turned color, partly cooked. Add shirataki noodles and remaining ingredients. Cook, simmering, for 5-7 minutes, until meat and noodles are flavored. Serve in small portions over bowls of hot, fresh rice.
Variations: Add fresh or reconstituted Japanese mushrooms (shiitake, matsutake), sliced bamboo shoots, sprigs of watercress (big yum!) or, for a vegetarian version, substitute well-pressed baked tofu for meats.